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The Learning Portfolio:

Reflective Practice for Improving

Student Learning

John Zubizarreta
Professor of English
Director of Honors and Faculty Development
Columbia College, SC

The Learning Portfolio:

What Is It?
The learning portfolio is a flexible,
evidence-based process that
combines reflection and
It engages students in ongoing,
reflective, and collaborative
analysis of learning.
It focuses on purposeful, selective
outcomes for both improving and
assessing learning.


--Material adapted from The Learning Portfolio (Anker, 2004)

The Learning Portfolio

Reflection + Documentation + Mentoring =


Successful Use

of Learning Portfolio
Course assessment/evaluation
Major/departmental outcomes
General Education program review/assessment
Academic advisement
Teacher preparation
Service learning
Field/experiential learning
Prior learning assessment
Fine arts
Technical/professional skills
Career preparation

Student Learning!

Levels of Blooms Taxonomy

Difficulty and Complexity






Complexity and difficulty are different. Complexity establishes

the level of thought; difficulty determines the amount of effort within
each level.
--Adapted from David A. Sousa, How the Brain Learns, 2nd ed. (Corwin, 2001)

The Role of Learning Portfolios


Creating Significant Learning Experiences:

--From L. Dee Fink (Jossey-Bass, 2003)

The Integrative Relationship of Learning Portfolios

Educative Assessment: Basic Components

A Model of Active Learning



Criteria &

& Ideas





--Graphic from J. Zubizarreta, Learning Portfolio (Anker, 2004)

In Creating Significant Learning Experiences, L. Dee Fink proposes an

innovative taxonomy of higher-level learning as the foundation for an
integrated approach to designing college courses and other learning
experiences. Finks model stresses the importance of active learning and
educative assessment (as opposed to simple auditive assessment).
One powerful tool for meeting the needs of higher-level learning and
bridging the goals of active learning and educative assessment is the
learning portfolio.


There is no single right answer. Contents are determined by the purpose of the portfolio. But here is a very
generic table of contents, organized by broad categories and certainly not prescriptive or exhaustive. The
table is meant to be suggestive, inviting multi-disciplinary ideas of what the actual, complex contents of a
student portfolio might be, remembering the caveat that purpose will drive final decisions about both
reflection and documentation.

Table of Contents
1. Philosophy of Learning (reflective narrative on learning
2. Achievements in Learning (transcripts, course descriptions,
rsums, honors, awards, internships, tutoring).
3. Evidence of Learning (research papers, critical essays, field
experience logs, creative displays/performances,
data/spreadsheet analyses, course electronic listserv entries).
4. Assessment of Learning (instructor feedback, course test
scores, exit/board exams, lab/data reviews, research project
results, practicum reports).
5. Relevance of Learning (practical applications, leadership,
relation of learning to personal and professional domains,
ethical/moral growth, affiliations, hobbies, volunteering,
affective value of learning).
6. Learning Goals (plans to enhance, connect, and apply
7. Appendices (selected documentation).
Adapted from The Learning Portfolio: Reflective Practice for Improving Student Learning (Anker, 2004)

Sample Questions for Student Reflection

The durable value of learning portfolios in improving student learning resides in
engaging students not just in collecting representative samples of their work for
assessment, evaluation, or career preparation but in addressing vital reflective
questions that invite systematic inquiry:

What have I learned?

When have I learned? In what circumstances?
Under what conditions?
How have I learned or not, and do I know what
kind of learner I am?
How does what I have learned fit into a
comprehensive, continual plan for learning?
What difference has the learning made in my
intellectual, personal, and ethical development?
In what ways is what I have learned valuable to
learn at all?
Why did I learn?

Sample Assignment Sheet for Learning Portfolio

(Brookfield 1995)

Instructions on Keeping a Learning Journal

The purpose of this journal is twofold. First, I hope it will give you some insight into
your own emotional and cognitive rhythms as a learner. By this, I mean that you will
become more aware of how you go about organizing your learning, what kinds of
learning tasks you are drawn to, what teaching styles you find most congenial, what
tasks you resist and seek to avoid, what conditions encourage you to take risks in
learning. . . . Second, and more selfishly, I hope that you will be ready to share some
sections of your journal with me. . . . If youd like some structure to help you with the
first few weeks entries, try writing a few lines in response to the following questions:
What have I learned this week about myself as a learner?
What have I learned this week about my emotional responses to learning?
What were the highest emotional moments in my learning activities this week?
What were the lowest emotional moments in my learning activities this week?
What learning tasks did I respond to most easily this week?
What learning tasks gave me the greatest difficulties this week?
What was the most significant thing that happened to me as a learner this week?
What learning activity or emotional response most took me by surprise this week?
Of everything I did this week in my learning, what would I do differently if I had to do it
What do I feel proudest about regarding my learning activities this week?
What do I feel most dissatisfied with regarding my learning activities this week?
Dont worry if your answers to these questions overlap or if you feel one question has
already been answered in your response to an earlier question. Do try and write
something, however brief, in response to each question. Even noting that nothing
surprised you or that there were no high or low emotional moments in your learning tells
you something about yourself as a learner and the conditions under which you learn. (pp.

The Importance Of Selectivity

In Contents Of
Learning Portfolio
The concrete evidence of learning in a portfolio is collected selectively in an appendix. The materials meet
the specific purposes of the portfolio. The representation of student work, or products, in the appendix is
linked to the reflective component of the learning portfolio, and it is driven by purpose and audience. For
example, the following chart suggests some representative ways in which the purpose of a learning portfolio
strongly determines the themes of the reflective narrative as well as the types of evidence selected in the





Development, reflective
inquiry, focus on goals,
philosophy of learning.

Drafts, journals, online threaded

discussion, emails, statement of
goals, classroom assessments,
research notes.

Job Search

Career preparation, versatile

skills, ambitions, potential for
future contributions,

Showcase projects, writing &

communication samples,
rsum, references, internship
evaluations, certifications,
reports/logs, computer
programs, awards, transcripts.


Voice, creativity, diverse &

flexible skills, craftsmanship,
facility with language,
research proficiency.

Essay drafts, journal, listserv or

threaded discussion entries,
research paper, publications,
concept maps or outlines.

Prior Learning

Mastery of content.

Products demonstrating skills &

competency, references,
achievement/placement test
scores, interview transcript.

Problem Solving

Critical thinking, creativity,

application of knowledge,
flexibility, curiosity.

Problem-solving log, lab

reports, computer programs,
spreadsheet data analyses.

Field Experiences

Application of knowledge,
trained skills, adaptability.

Field journals, logs, reports,

video/audio tapes, photos,
project leaders evaluation,
grant proposal, publication.

Adapted from The Learning Portfolio: Reflective Practice for Improving Student Learning (Anker, 2004).



How will your portfolio be used? Who is the

audience for your portfolio? What is the role of that
What have you learned about the subject that you did
not previously know? What have you discovered
about your learning style?
What are the best examples of your work for this
project? The weakest? Why?
What do the pieces and the portfolio overall reflect
about your learning?
What new learning strategies have you adopted as a
result of the portfolio process?
What were the most difficult parts of the process?
In what ways is your reflective portfolio unique?
How does it capture your personal learning
experience and voice?
What has been most meaningful about the portfolio
process? Why?

How Does the Learning Portfolio

Enhance Learning (and Teaching)?
Power of Reflection
Collaborative Learning
Creative Assessment
Multiple Intelligences
Critical Thinking
Risk and Challenge
Writing = Learning
Selectivity, judgment, responsibility
Active Pedagogy
Can you think of other ways?




Key Questions
Learning Portfolios

How have products collected in a portfolio

over time contributed to higher-level
What has the student learned from the
process of creating, collecting, selecting, and
connecting the work?
How does the work fit into a larger
framework of life-long learning which goes
beyond simply completing graded
Why and how is reflective learning valuable
in the students overall intellectual and
practical development?

Challenges & Issues

Schmooze: patronizing, giving superficially
what the professor wants
Sunset raving: rhetoric, glitz, appearance
Product vs. process
Coherence (reflection tied to evidence)
The wheelbarrow syndrome: bulk, physicality
Electronic considerations: a legion of issues
Writing: asset or liability?
Evidence: purpose, type, variety, how much?
Evaluation: who, when, how, why?

Tips for LP, Time, Stress & Large Classes

Start slow and small. Ideas: one class, count as portion of course grade,
weighted grade for complete project with simple individual feedback such
as checks, substitute for final exam.
Streamline feedback: focus on purposeful items, dont try to respond to all
dimensions of portfolio, collect digital bank of common responses for
Think of portfolio as different, not more, in course syllabus, assignments,
Use technology: most web course management tools include handy
feedback and assessment systems.
Develop scoring rubrics to help make feedback and grading processes
clearer, more efficient.
Large classes? Offer feedback on a schedule to rotating groups; respond
to randomly selected individuals throughout the term until all have
received at least one communication about their work; rely on structured
peer feedback.
Do you have your own teaching portfolio? You should! The principles,
methods, and valuable benefits applicable to your portfolio will help you
design an equally powerful, manageable learning portfolio for students.
Be careful, clear, deliberate in planning portfolio project; have explicit
goals, objectives, due dates, length and assessment criteria. Save time by
being organized.
Incorporate portfolio work into other work in course, as drafting for a
graded paper, project, or lab report, for example. Let portfolio serve
double duty.

Resources on Rubrics:
Assessing the Learning Portfolio
1. Authentic Assessment Toolbox at
2. TLT Group page on rubrics:
3. Rubric for critical thinking:
4. For PowerPoint presentations, but adaptable to other uses:
5. Templates for rubrics:
6. Andrade, H. G. (2000, February). Using rubrics to promote thinking and learning.
Educational Leadership 57(5). See Follow links to
Publications>Educational Leadership>Archived Issues.
7. The following pieces are available at Recommendations for
Developing Classroom Performance Assessments and Scoring Rubrics, Barbara M.
Moskal (2003); Designing scoring rubrics for your classroom, Craig A. Mertler
(2001); Scoring Rubrics: What, When and How? B. M. Moskal (2001).
8. National Teaching & Learning Forum 13.6 (Oct. 2004): 9. DEVELOPERS DIARY:
Why Rubrics? Educating in Fractal Patterns IX, Edward Nuhfer. See
9. Ohio Learning Network, CourseCheck Resource Bank, includes rubrics to
assess Seven Principles of Good Practice. See Principles Two, Four, Five, Six:
10. Monmouth Universitys Faculty Resource Center information on rubrics:
11. Illinois Community College Boards Preparing Technology-Proficient Educators
in Illinois. Scroll to Information on Rubrics:


Selected Resources on Electronic Learning Portfolios

AAHE e-portfolio info.:
Albion College Electronic Portfolio:
Alverno College Diagnostic Digital Portfolio:
Barrett, Helen. Consulting/educational site:
Cambridge, Barbara L., et al. Electronic Portfolios: Emerging Practices in
Student, Faculty, and Institutional Learning. AAHE, 2001.
EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative:
Indiana University, Open Source Portfolio Initiative:
Kalamazoo Portfolio web site:
Kimball, Miles A. The Web Portfolio Guide: Creating Electronic Portfolios for
the Web. Longman, 2003.
LaGuardia Community C ePortfolio:
Lankes, Maria D. Electronic Portfolios: A New Idea in Assessment. ERIC:
Lone Star 2000 Project. Pre-service teachersand students portfolios in CDROM format. See project at; follow links to back
issue Oct. 1996. Contact: Dennis Holt, U of North Florida,
Pennsylvania State University, Programmatic Implementation of e-Portfolio:
St. Olaf College, CIS:
Wesleyan U., for advisement:


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Brookfield, S. D. (1995). Becoming a critically reflective teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Cambridge, B., et al. (2001). Electronic portfolios: Emerging practices in student, faculty, and
institutional learning. Wash., D.C.: AAHE.
Campbell, D. M., Cignetti, P. B., Melenyzer, B. J., Nettles, D. H., & Wyman, R. M. (2001). How to
develop a professional portfolio: A manual for teachers. 2nd ed. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Campbell, D. M., Melenyzer, B. J., Nettles, D. H., & Wyman, R. M., Jr. (2000). Portfolio and
performance assessment in teacher education. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
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Elbow, P. (1998). Writing without teachers. Second edition. New York: Oxford University Press.
Emig, J. A. (1977). Writing as a mode of learning. College Comp. and Communication, 28, 122-128.
Fink, L. D. (2003). Creating significant learning experiences. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Hillocks, G., Jr. (1995). Teaching writing as reflective practice: Integrating theories. Language and
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Kimball, M. A. (2003). Web portfolio guide:Creating electronic portfolios for the web. NY: Longman.
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Schn, D. (1983). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. NY: Basic Books.
Sunstein, B. S., & Lovell, J. H., eds. (2000), The portfolio standard: How students can show us what they
know and are able to do. Portsmouth: Heinemann.
Wright, W. A., & Barton, B. (2001). Students mentoring students in portfolio development. In J. E.
Miller, J. E. Groccia, & M. S. Miller (Eds.), Student-assisted teaching: A guide to faculty-student
teamwork (pp. 69-76). Bolton: Anker.
Yancey, K. B., ed. (1992), Portfolios in the writing classroom: An introduction. Urbana: NCTE.
Yancey, K. B., & Weiser, I. (Eds.), Situating portfolios: Four perspectives. Logan: Utah State U. Press.
Zubizarreta, J. (2004). The learning portfolio: Reflective practice for improving student learning. Bolton:

Crafting a Learning Portfolio Project

John Zubizarreta, Columbia College, SC, USA

Reflective Group Exercise: Think about how you would design a learning
portfolio project for your classroom, program, or institutional use. 1) What kinds of
reflective questions would you ask students to address? 2) What kinds of evidence
or learning outcomes would be most useful? 3) How would you engage students in
collaboration and mentoring in the process?
Purpose of Learning Portfolio: